Central Texas, You Need CPR!

I live in Central Texas. More specifically, in Bell County. We are blessed to have what are considered two pretty decent lakes. Tournaments from all over the state come to Lake Belton and Stillhouse Hollow to fish. Do we host as many tournaments as Lake Fork or Lake Texoma? Not even close. And that is completely okay by me. Less boats on the water makes it easier for us kayakers or paddle/fish enthusiasts. Today what I wanted to talk about is an issue that needs a lot of attention. It is often highly contested and may get me in a bit of trouble but I am fine with that. It is that important.

Lake Fork is a world class bass fishery. People fly from all over the world to try to catch a ten pound Largemouth Bass. I don't think I am telling any secrets by saying that. Lake Fork has continued to produce great fish every year because of conservation. People are practicing catch and release in great numbers at Lake Fork. Could it be because of the slot? Maybe. But when you can keep fish under a certain size, it seems their harvest rates would be higher, as the younger, smaller fish are often easiest to catch. I really believe it starts with the guides and locals not removing the bucketmouths from their habitat. The preferred way to document your catch is CPR. That stands for Catch-Photograph-Release. You can get a weight, get a measurement and then send her swimming for the next person to catch. This also allows her to make more bruisers for our future generations to tangle with.

I know it is the law that you can keep a certain number of fish per day. I even encourage it on some bodies of water. Some lakes are overrun with 12-14" bass that eat everything in sight. In these cases, by all means, take and eat within the legal limits. Other lakes however, already experience a large harvest rate and to revitalize the water body, need to encourage more CPR.

I am looking at you Lake Belton.

Sometimes referred to as the "Dead Sea" in summer, Belton experiences what I would consider high harvest rates for Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass.

At Lake Fork, where conservation is preached from every direction, the LMB harvest rate for the 2009-2010 survey was 11.25%. Only 11% of eligible fish caught were harvested. (1)

At Lake Belton, the harvest rate for the 2010-2011 survey was 43% for Largemouths and 42.5% for Smallmouths. (2)

No wonder it's the "Dead Sea"!

My goal is not to keep you from having a fish dinner. I understand people want to eat fish and can by law. I would ask you to consider harvesting less. If everyone kept only 10-15% of their legal catches, we would have a better fishery. Bass start to spawn at age 3 and are 14" a little past age 4. When you are eating 14-18" fish, you are eating the breeding stock for a majority of the lake. In 2010, 78% of the fish caught during the survey were less than 15". If you are legally keeping Smallmouth, you are eating the breeding population. The Largemouth population fared a little better where 32% of the fish surveyed were over 15". This is still not a great number.

Please keep in mind this data the next time you search out for a fish dinner. Reducing what you take, using CPR for large fish and sharing this natural resource with future generations will go a lot further than Saturday's lunch.




River Kayak Pat said...

Nice article, Chris. Keep preaching conservation. In my eyes, slot limits are a great way to protect populations of bass. I wrote an article about this in relation to rivers: http://www.fishtattoo.net/2012/06/small-and-large-waters.html

You are also right that there are some lakes that are over populated with bass, and we need to take some out in order to maintain an healthy population. However, my long term visions would be for these lakes to be CPR lakes, or slot-limit lakes as well.

Overpopulated bodies of water did not exist years ago, before man started screwing around with things. If you leave it to nature (replace the natural balance of predators and prey in the lake, yes re-populating gar, etc.) Then the balance would go back and fishing would be better. But that gets even more complicated when you start thinking deeper into it, because none of these lakes existed years ago either...hmmm....

Chris Payne said...

Right on Pat. Your link you shared earlier in the week got me going back to all of the other conservation posts and started me thinking about harvest rates. I was astounded at the harvest rate at Belton of LMB,SMB. We need to visit more soon about your crusade with the Guadalupe bass. I'd be very interested in helping however I can to further your cause for the guad.

Thanks for all your doing to preach conservation. If it's on our minds more, we'll take more action.